After the start of the German invasion, Poland would place their faith in their allies of Western Europe who would not immediately enter the war.
Hello everyone and welcome to History of the Second World War Episode 120 - The September Campaign Pt. 12 - Poland’s Allies. This begins our two part series on the entry of Britain and France into the war on September 3, 1939. When the Germans had invaded Poland on September 1st, the two Western nations did not immediately enter the war, as their agreements with Poland might have pointed to and instead there would be a period of attempted negotiation. These attempts would mainly proceed along two routes, that would both be equally as unfruitful. The first was a series of warning and eventually and ultimatum to Germany that they had to cease their actions in Poland immediately or London and Paris would declare war. The second avenue of discussion revolved around the idea of an Italian lead conference between the major powers of Europe. Both of these avenues would drive the actions of politicians in both western nations, with the warnings and ultimatums coming attached with future deadlines which delayed action, while the possibility of an Italian peace conference also meant further waiting before any real action was taken. On the homefront in both nations, the constant coverage of the crisis on the Polish border over the previous weeks had made war seem far more likely. And after September 1st real actions would very quickly be taken that brought the idea of war firmly into every area of society, with actions like mobilization and urban evacuations becoming front page news in both nations. Today we will cover roughly the first 48 hours of the war as both the French and British governments tried to determine how best to react to the German aggression, and how they wanted to push forward either by entering the war or trying to broker a piece, which would have been at the expensive of Poland.
In the last hours of August 31st the direction that Germany would take in the following days was still not precisely determined. What was obvious to the leaders in London and Paris was that the German government and press, which remember were entirely controlled by the Nazi Party, were using escalating rhetoric. Even with that escalation, whether or not war was imminent was unclear with one report from the French Ambassador in Berlin saying: “The German Press is manifestly divided to-day between its care to keep the public on tenterhooks and its desire not to excite public opinion too much.” Then on the morning of September 1st there would be a period of information gathering as it took time for news of the German actions to read the British and French governments, and even longer for real details to begin flowing in and cause a change in action. In London Halifax would spend a good portion of the morning just trying to determine what exactly was happening as bits and pieces of information were relayed from British representatives in Poland and from the Polish government to their ambassador in London. They were also having to compare the information being received from Poland with the information being fed to them by the German ambassador. One example of this was around whether or not the early morning bombing of Warsaw had actually occurred. The Polish ambassador would tell Halifax that Warsaw had been bombed earlier that morning, but less than an hour later the German ambassador said that no such incident occurred. We have clear information about this attack now, but at the time there was so much confusion about what exactly was happening that it was not completely impossible that the information coming from the Polish ambassador was simply bad information. Gathering the correct information was important because the military alliance that had been signed between Britain and Poland on August 25th was very clear, “in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence … His Majesty’s Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power.” Poland would call on London to honor its commitments on the morning of September 1st, with clear instructions to the Polish ambassador to arrange for immediate assistance to be given.
Instead of immediately declaring war, Chamberlain and the British government would take a moment to consider its course. During the morning a meeting of the cabinet would be called to determine the government’s response. There would be three primary decisions that would be made, the first was to begin a general mobilization of Britain’s armed forces and to dispatch the Royal Air Force’s Advanced Air Striking Force to France immediately. This was seen as a precautionary measure and was not considered a guarantee that Britain was going to war. The second major decision was that the cabinet would request a considerable sum from Parliament for war funding, this was mostly to cover the costs of the precautionary measures that were taking place. The general mobilization itself would cost the government money, along with everything else that was happening, eventually the House of Commons would approve 500 million pounds to cover these costs. The third decision was to send a warning to Hitler and the German government to stop all of their aggression. Several hours would be spent wring up this message before it was sent to Henderson, the British ambassador in Berlin, to deliver. The warning would be sent until the middle of the afternoon, and then it was not delivered until after 9PM. When the message was sent to Henderson it included information on how it should be delivered, as well as this note to Henderson: “For your own information. If the German replay is unsatisfactory the next stage will be either an ultimatum with time limit or an immediate declaration of war.” The important part of this communication is that the situation was not, in any way, an ultimatum, Henderson had to be very clear that it was not an ultimatum, because it was not an ultimatum. Henderson would make it clear to Ribbentrop that it was not an ultimatum, because the British government did not want to make the Germans feel like they were being backed into a corner or that they did not have other options.
The conversations occurring in London were echoed by those occurring in Paris among French political leaders. The German invasion marked the end of a very long week for the French leaders. It had started with the announcement of the Nonaggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union on August 23rd which had caused great alarm due to the threat that it placed on France’s entire defensive strategy of alliance systems in Eastern Europe to ensure a second front against Germany. The news prompted Daladier to hold a special meeting of the Council of National Defense, which brought together Daladier, Foreign Minister Bonnet, the head of the French Army, Navy, and Air Force, along with a collection of other Military leaders. The questions posed before the group were simple, what should France choose to do if Germany attacked Poland or Romania. The answer was a mix of honoring France’s previous commitments, but then also doing very little. The first fact was that the French Army was in no position, and would not be in such a position for many months after mobilization, or launch any kind of attack against Germany. As we discussed in earlier episodes, the French Army was not setup or prepared to large offensive operations early in a war, it was instead far more focused on meeting a German attack and hopefully stopping it near the border. The hope was that just mobilizing the French army would pull some German troops away from Eastern Europe, but German actions in Eastern Europe would ensure that Germany would not launch an attack on France. This would give the French military maybe several months, possibly as long as the spring of 1940, to prepare for action. These preparations could then be completed in association with Britain while economic warfare was waged against Germany. These were the general military plans for France that were in place when news arrived that the Germans had crossed the Polish border. After a similar period of information gathering the French leaders would take a very similar list of actions to what had been done in London. A mobilization would be ordered, with the mobilization being clearly seen as a precautionary measure with no decision made on whether or not war would be declared. There would also be a message sent to Berlin as a warning, again not an ultimatum, it was to be made clear that it was not an ultimatum. One of the reasons that these actions were so similar to the British actions is because London and Paris would be in constant communication throughout the day, with the message to Coulondre, the French ambassador in Berlin, saying: “The British Government have instructed your colleague to present to the German government an urgent communication of which Sir Neville Henderson will himself inform you. You should associate yourself with this step.” Coulandre would deliver his written message to Ribbentrop at 10PM on September 1st, saying in part: “As a consequence, I have to inform Your Excellency that, unless the German Government is prepared to give the French Government satisfactory assurances that the German Government has suspended all aggressive action Poland and is ready promptly to withdraw its forces from Polish territory, the French government will unhesitatingly fulfill its obligations to Poland.”
While the French and British leaders were trying to determine their path forward, the German and Polish governments were actively trying to influence the choices that other nations were taking. On the Polish side it mostly involved several messages being sent from Foreign Minister Beck to both the Polish ambassadors abroad and French and British ambassadors in Warsaw with information about the actions being taken by the Germans and calling on the British and French to honor their commitments. The Polish leaders hoped that even if the French and British could not launch a ground attack against Germany immediately, they could declare war and then immediately go to work with their air power. They could begin bombing Germany, or even send resource to fight in Poland. One of the messages would state: “We are already fighting along the entire front with the bulk of the German forces,” it read, “fighting for every meter, [and] even the garrison at Westerplatte is defending itself. The intervention of the entire air force is taking on an increasingly brutal form. Today we have extensive civilian casualties.” On the other side the German representatives around Europe and the world were being told to firmly downplay the events that were occurring. With one of the memorandum’s sent in the evening saying “In defence against Polish attacks, German troops moved into action against Poland at dawn today. This action is for the present not to be described as war, but merely as engagements which have been brought about by Polish attacks.” The German goal was simply to introduce some level of doubt among other national leaders about events at a time when there was already tremendous confusion. Many nations outside of Britain and France would respond to events, with one of the more important for reasons we will later discuss, being from the United States. One of the key features of the American interaction was for President Roosevelt to request that all sides agree to not perform any aerial bombing of civilian targets. This bombing had already occurred over Warsaw, but the British government was quick to offer such assurances, with a message stating: “His Majesty’s Government welcome the weighty and moving appeal of the President of the United States against the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities. Deeply impressed by the humanitarian considerations to which the President’s message refers, it was already the settled policy of His Majesty’s Government should they become involved in hostilities to refrain from such action and to confine bombardment to strictly military objectives upon the understanding that those same rules will be scrupulously observed by all their opponents.” This would be one of the reasons that, in the early days of the war, the Royal Air Force would avoid civilian targets, and instead of dropping bombs over cities would instead drop propaganda leaflets.
In both London and Paris the most important discussion on the morning of September 2nd revolved around securing funds to pay for the mobilization orders that had been given on September 1st, in both cases this involved permission from the rest of the government. In London this involved Chamberlain giving an overview of events to Parliament and asking them to vote for the new spending. Chamberlain would also make it clear that the policy of the British government was still, as of September 2nd, one that would allow for and encourage any possible negotiations: “His Majesty’s Government will, as stated yesterday, be bound to take action unless the German forces are withdrawn from Polish territory. They are in communication with the French Government as to the limit of time within which it would be necessary for the British and French Governments to know whether the German Government were prepared to effect such a withdrawal. If the German Government should agree to withdraw their forces then His Majesty’s Government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier. That is to say, the way would be open to discussion between the German and Polish Governments on the matters at issue between them, on the understanding that the settlement arrived at was one that safeguarded the vital interests of Poland and was secured by an international guarantee. If the German and Polish Governments wished that other Powers should be associated with them in the discussion, His Majesty’s Government for their part would be willing to agree.” Another key discussion point for both Chamberlain in the Commons and Halifax in his address to the House of Lords was the efforts by Italy to broker some kind of peace. The Commons would approve the necessary funding, but one thing would be clear soon after the Commons adjourned, there was growing pressure for the British government to issue a firm ultimatum at the earliest possible moment to force Germany to change its course of action. This was communicated to Chamberlain, with the general vibe of these messages being that if an ultimatum was not delivered, efforts would be made to create a new government. This pressure resulted in late evening meetings among the Cabinet as they tried to decide what an ultimatum would look like and when it should be delivered. the eventual decision would be made at around 10PM that an ultimatum would be delivered by Henderson at 9AM the next morning, with a two hour expiration. Chamberlain is recorded as ending the topic by asking for any dissenting votes in the cabinet before saying “Right, gentlemen, this means war.”
In this decisions they would work closely with the French, with Halifax speaking to Bonnet on the telephone at 10:30PM. The French government was divided on the best course of action, Daladier and some of the other members were in favor of an ultimatum, accepting the possibility of war, while others like Foreign Minister Bonnet held out hope that the Italian mediation offers would bear fruit and prevent war from occurring. Bonnet’s hesitance to deliver an ultimatum, which would prompt war if unanswered, would manifest in his protests to Halifax that an ultimatum with an expiration just a few hours after it was given, would simply prompt Germany into feeling like it could not respond. Bonnet wanted the British to instead delay in its delivery until at least Noon Berlin time and then not place an expiration until the early morning of September 4th, but Halifax made it clear that delivering the ultimatum as early as possible the next morning was essential to the current British government remaining its position as the current British government. Eventually both Chamberlain and Halifax would have discussions with their French counterparts to join them in delivering an ultimatum at the same time, as a show of unity of thought and action. Daladier was initially resistant to the quick turn around time, much like Bonnet, with both getting pressure from Gamelin and the military leaders that more measures should be taken to prepare the French military before war was declared, with at least another 48 hours requested. But eventually, the decision would be made to join with the British in their ultimatum, defaulting back to the same consideration which had driven French foreign policy for over a decade: at all costs the alliance with Britain must be maintained. Next episode we will continue our story with the delivery of these ultimatums. But before we end here I thought it would be interesting to present you with a full transcript of the speech made by President Daladier to the French Chamber of Deputies on September 2, 1939.
The Government yesterday decreed general mobilization.
The whole nation is answering the call with serious and resolute calm. The young men have rejoined their regiments. They are now defending our frontiers. The example of dignified courage which they have just set to the world must provide inspiration for our debates. (Applause.) In a great impulse of national brotherliness they have forgotten everything which only yesterday could divide them. They no longer acknowledge any service but the service of France. As we send them the grateful greeting of the nation let us all pledge ourselves together to be worthy of them. (Loud and unanimous applause.)
Thus has the Government put France into a position to act in accordance with our vital interests and with national honour.
It has now the duty of setting forth before you the facts as they are, fully, frankly, and clearly.
Peace had been endangered for several days. The demands of Germany on Poland were threatening to provoke a conflict. I shall show you in a moment how-perhaps for the first time in history-all the peaceful forces of the world, moral and material, were leagued together during those days and during those nights to save the world’s peace. But just when it could still be hoped that all those repeated efforts were going to be crowned with success, Germany abruptly brought them to naught.
During the day of August 31 the crisis reached its peak. When Germany had at last let Great Britain know that she agreed to hold direct negotiations with Poland, a course which she had, let it be said, refused to me, Poland, in spite of the terrible threat created by the sudden armed invasion of Slovakia by the German forces, at once endeavoured to resort to this peaceful method. (Loud applause on all the benches.) At one o’clock in the afternoon M. Lipski, the Polish Ambassador to Germany, requested an audience from Herr von Ribbentrop. Peace seemed to be saved. But the Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs would not receive M. Lipski till 7.45 p.m., seven hours later. While the latter was bringing the consent of his Government to direct conversations, the German Minister refused to communicate Germany’s claims to the Polish Ambassador, on the pretext that the Ambassador had not full powers to accept or reject them on the spot. (Sensation.)
At 9 p.m. the German wireless was communicating the nature and the full extent of these claims; it added that Poland had rejected them. That is a lie. (Long applause on the left, on the extreme left, in the centre, and on the right.) That is a lie, since Poland did not even know them. (Renewed applause.)
And at dawn on September 1 the FÃ¼hrer gave his troops the order to attack. Never was aggression more unmistakable and less warranted; nor for its justification could more lies and cynicism have been brought into play. (Unanimous applause.)
Thus was war unleashed at the time when the most noteworthy forces, the authorities who were at the same time the most respected and the most impartial, had ranged themselves in the service of peace; at the time when the whole world had joined together to induce the two sides to come into direct contact so as to settle peacefully the conflict which divides them.
The Head of Christianity had given voice to reason and feelings of brotherhood; President Roosevelt had sent moving messages and proposed a general conference to all countries; the neutral countries had been active in offering their impartial good offices. Need I say that to each of these appeals the French Government gave an immediate welcome and complete assent? (Applause.)
I myself, Gentlemen, if I may be allowed a reference to my own person, thought it my duty as a Frenchman to approach Herr Hitler directly. The Head of the German Government had let me know on August 25, through M. Coulondre, our Ambassador in Berlin, that he deplored the fact that in case of an armed conflict between Germany and Poland, German blood and French blood might be shed. I immediately had a definite proposal put to the FÃ¼hrer, a proposal wholly inspired by the real concern to safeguard without any delay the peace of the world now imperiled. (Loud applause on the left, on the extreme left, in the centre, and on the right.)
You were able to read, I think in fact that you must have read these texts. You know the answer I was given; I will not dwell on it.
But we were not disheartened by the failure of this step, and once more we backed up the effort to which Mr. Chamberlain devoted himself with splendid stubbornness. (Loud and prolonged applause on the same benches.) The documents exchanged between London and Berlin have been published. On the one side impartial and persevering loyalty; on the other side, embarrassment, shifty and shirking behavior. I am also happy at this juncture to pay my tribute to the noble efforts made by the Italian Government. (Applause.) Even yesterday we strove to unite all men of goodwill so as at least to stave off hostilities, to prevent bloodshed and to ensure that the methods of conciliation and arbitration should be substituted for the use of violence. (Loud applause.)
Gentlemen, these efforts towards peace, however powerless they were and still remain, will at least have shown where the responsibility lies. They insure for Poland, the victim, the effective cooperation and moral support of the nations and of free men of all lands.
What we did before the beginning of this war, we are ready to do once more. If renewed steps are taken towards conciliation, we are still ready to join in. (Loud and unanimous applause. On the extreme left, on the left, in the centre, and on the right the deputies rise and
If the fighting were to stop, if the aggressor were to retreat within his own frontiers, if free negotiations could still be started, you may well believe, Gentlemen, the French Government would spare no effort to ensure, even today, if it were possible, the success of these negotiations, in the interests of the peace of the world. (Loud and prolonged applause.)
But time is pressing; France and England cannot look on when a friendly nation is being destroyed (renewed applause), a foreboding of further onslaughts, eventually aimed at England and France. (Applause.)
Indeed, are we only dealing with the German-Polish conflict? We are not, Gentlemen; what we have to deal with is a new stage in the advance of the Hitler dictatorship towards the domination of Europe and the world. (Loud and unanimous applause.) How, indeed, are we to forget that the German claim to the Polish territories had been long marked on the map of Greater Germany, and that it was only concealed for some years to facilitate other conquests? So long as the German-Polish Pact, which dates back only a few years, was profitable to Germany, Germany respected it; on the day when it became a hindrance to marching towards domination it was denounced unhesitatingly. (Applause.) Today we are told that, once the German claims against Poland were satisfied, Germany would pledge herself before the whole world for ten, for twenty, for twenty-five years, for all time, to restore or to respect peace. Unfortunately, we have heard such promises before! (Loud applause on a very great many benches.)
On May 25, 1935, Chancellor Hitler pledged himself not to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria and not to unite Austria to the Reich; and on March 11, 1938, the German army entered Vienna; Chancellor Schuschnigg was imprisoned for daring to defend his country’s independence, and no one today can say what is his real fate after so many physical and moral sufferings. (Loud applause.) Now we are to believe that it was Dr. Schuschnigg’s acts of provocation that brought about the invasion and enslavement of his country!
On September 12, 1938, Herr Hitler declared that the Sudeten problem was an internal matter which concerned only the German minority in Bohemia and the Czechoslovak Government. A few days later he maintained that the violent persecutions carried on by the Czechs were compelling him to change his policy.
On September 26 of the same year he declared that his claim on the Sudeten territory was the last territorial claim he had to make in Europe. On March 14, 1939, Herr Hacha was summoned to Berlin: ordered under the most stringent pressure to accept an ultimatum. A few hours later Prague was being occupied in contempt of the signed pledges given to other countries in Western Europe. In this case also Herr Hitler endeavoured to put on the victims the onus which in fact lies on the aggressor. (Unanimous applause.)
Finally, on January 30, 1939, Herr Hitler spoke in loud praise of the non-aggression pact which he had signed five years previously with Poland. He paid a tribute to this agreement as a common act of liberation, and solemnly confirmed his intention to respect its clauses.
But it is Herr Hitler’s deeds that count, not his word. (Loud and repeated applause on all the benches.)
What, then, is our duty? Poland is our ally. We entered into commitments with her in 1921 and 1925. These commitments were confirmed.
I, myself, in the Chamber said, on May 11 last:
“As a result of the journey of the Polish Minister for Foreign Affairs to London and of the reciprocal pledges of guarantee given by Great Britain and Poland, by a common agreement with this noble and brave nation we took the measures required for the immediate and direct application of our treaty of alliance.”
Parliament approved this policy.
Since then we have never failed both in diplomatic negotiations and in public utterances, to prove faithful to it. Our Ambassador in Berlin has several times reminded Herr Hitler that, if a German aggression were to take place against Poland, we should fulfill our pledges. And on July 1, in Paris, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said to the German Ambassador to France:
“France has definite commitments to Poland. These engagements have been further strengthened as a result of the latest events, and consequently France will at once be at Poland’s side as soon as Poland herself takes up arms.”
Poland has been the object of the most unjust and brutal aggression. The nations who have guaranteed her independence are bound to intervene in her defence.
Great Britain and France are not Powers that can disown, or dream of disowning, their signatures. (Loud and prolonged applause on the extreme left, on the left, in the centre, and on the right.)
Already last night, on September 1, the French and British Ambassadors were making a joint overture to the German Government. They handed to Herr von Ribbentrop the following communication from the French Government and the British Government, which I will ask your leave to read out to you:
“Early this morning the German Chancellor issued a proclamation to the German army which clearly indicated that he was about to attack Poland.
“Information which has reached His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and the French Government indicates that German troops had crossed the Polish frontier and that attacks upon Polish towns are proceeding.
“In these circumstances, it appears to the Governments of the United Kingdom and France that, by their action, the German Government have created conditions (viz., an aggressive act of force against Poland threatening the independence of Poland) which call for the implementation by the Governments of the United Kingdom and France of the undertaking to Poland to come to her assistance.
“I am accordingly to inform Your Excellency that, unless the German Government are prepared to give the French Government and His Majesty’s Government satisfactory assurances that the German Government have suspended all aggressive action against Poland and are prepared promptly to withdraw their forces from Polish territory, the French Government and His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom will without hesitation fulfill their obligations to Poland.”
And indeed, Gentlemen, it is not only the honour of our country: it is also the protection of its vital interests that is at stake.
For a France which should allow this aggression to be carried out would very soon find itself a scorned, an isolated, a discredited France, without allies and without support, and, doubtless, would soon herself be exposed to a formidable attack. (Applause.)
This is the question I lay before the French nation, and all nations. At the very moment of the aggression against Poland, what value has the guarantee, once more renewed, given for our eastern frontier, for our Alsace (loud applause), for our Lorraine (loud applause), after the repudiation of the guarantees given in turn to Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland? More powerful through their conquests, gorged with the plunder of Europe, the masters of inexhaustible natural wealth, the aggressors would soon turn against France with all their forces. (Fresh applause.)
Thus, our honour is but the pledge of our own security. It is not that abstract and obsolete form of honour of which conquerors speak to justify their deeds of violence: it is the dignity of a peaceful people, which bears hatred towards no other people in the world (loud and prolonged applause on all benches) and which never embarks upon a war save only for the sake of its freedom and of its life.
Forfeiting our honour would purchase nothing more than a precarious peace liable to rescission, and when, tomorrow, we should have to fight after losing the respect of our allies and the other nations, we should no longer be anything more than a wretched people doomed to defeat and bondage. (Loud and unanimous applause.)
I feel confident that not a single Frenchman harbours such thoughts today. But I well know, too, Gentlemen, that it is hard for those who have devoted their whole lives to the cause of peace and who are still prompted by a peaceful ideal to reply, by force if needed, to deeds of violence. As head of the Government, I am not the man to make an apology for war in these tragic hours. I fought before like most of you. I can remember. I shall not utter a single one of those words that the genuine fighters look upon as blasphemous. (Applause.) But I desire to do my plain duty, and shall do it, as an honourable man. (Fresh applause.)
Gentlemen, while we are in session, Frenchmen are rejoining their regiments. Not one of them feels any hatred in his heart against the German people. (Loud and unanimous applause.) Not one of them is giving way to the intoxicating call of violence and brutality; but they are ready, unanimously, to discharge their duty with the quiet courage which derives its inspiration from a clear conscience. (Fresh applause.)
Gentlemen, you who know what those Frenchmen are thinking, you who even yesterday were among them in our provincial towns and in our countryside, you who have seen them go off-you will not contradict me if I evoke their feelings here. They are peace-loving men, but they have decided to make every sacrifice needed to defend the dignity and freedom of their country. If they have answered our call, as they have done, without a moment’s hesitation, without a murmur, without flinching, that is because they feel, all of them, in the depths of their hearts that it is, in truth, whatever may be said, the very existence of France that is at stake. (Loud and unanimous applause.)
You know better than anyone else that no government, no man, would be able to mobilize France merely to launch her into an adventure. Never would the French rise to invade the territory of a foreign country. (Loud and prolonged applause on all the benches.) Theirs is the heroism for defence and not for conquest. When you see France spring to arms it is because she feels herself threatened.
It is not France only that has arisen; it is that whole, far-flung empire under the sheltering folds of our tricolour. (Applause.) From every corner of the globe moving protestations of loyalty from all the protected or friendly races are reaching the mother country today. (Applause.) The union of all Frenchmen is thus echoed beyond the seas by the union of all peoples under our protection who in the hour of danger are proffering both their arms and their hearts. (Loud applause.) And I wish also to salute all the foreigners settled on our soil (loud applause) who on this very day in their thousands and thousands, as though they were the volunteers of imperiled freedom, are placing their courage and their lives at the service of France. (Renewed applause.)
Our duty is to make an end of aggressive and violent undertakings; by means of peaceful settlement, if we can still do so, and this we shall strive our utmost to achieve (unanimous applause), by the wielding of our strength, if all sense of morality as well as all glimmering of reason has died within the aggressors. (Renewed applause.)
If we were not to keep our pledges, if we were to allow Germany to crush Poland, within a few months, perhaps within a few weeks, what could we say to France, if we had to face aggressors once more? Then would those most determined soldiers ask us what we had done with our friends. They would feel themselves alone, under the most dreadful threat, and might lose, perhaps for all time, the confidence which now spurs them on.
Gentlemen, in these hours when the fate of Europe is in the balance, France is speaking to us through the voice of her sons, through the voice of all those who have already accepted, if need be, the greatest sacrifice of all. Let us recapture, as they have done, that spirit which fired all the heroes of our history. France rises with such impetuous impulses only when she feels in her heart that she is fighting for her life and for her independence.
Gentlemen, today France is in command. (Loud and repeated applause on all the benches. The deputies sitting on the left, on the extreme left, in the centre, and on the right rise and applaud at great length.)